What Is Avobenzone? The Truth About Sunscreen Safety - Public Goods Blog

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What Is Avobenzone? The Truth About Sunscreen Safety

Calling all sun worshippers! Whether you prefer working up a sweat outdoors or lounging around while soaking in some rays – everyone loves the sun.

bottle of sunscreen lotion on the beach

No matter how you choose to get your vitamin D fix, one thing is for sure: You’ve got to keep your skin protected.

Protecting your skin from the sun is not always straightforward as slathering on whatever sunscreen you can find. You also need to bear in mind what sunscreen ingredients are in your products of choice. One ingredient you should be wary of is avobenzone. We’re here to answer what is avobenzone, as well as the dangers of it and how to find avobenzone-free sunscreen.

What Is Avobenzone?

Pick up almost any generic bottle and you’ll most likely find avobenzone in sunscreen.

This chemical is used for its ability to protect against not only UVB rays, but also offers UVA protection. These UV rays are both known to increase the risk of skin cancer and skin aging.

Although avobenzone can be found in most chemical sunscreens and many other skincare products and cosmetics, it doesn’t work alone.

Avobenzone breaks down quickly in the sun, only offering about thirty minutes of protection on its own. Because of this, developers have to add other potentially harmful chemicals like octocrylene, octisalate, or oxybenzone to stabilize avobenzone and provide longer sun protection.

Unfortunately, many of these chemicals come with certain dangers, mixed with potential avobenzone side effects.

Avobenzone Health Risks

If you’re now rummaging through your pantry looking at the ingredients list of your sunscreens, here’s what you need to know about avobenzone safety.

1. Limited Sun Protection

Because avobenzone offers such a limited length of sun protection, it can give a false sense of security. Damage from UVA rays can take years to show up, which means you may not see the effects right away.

When avobenzone degrades in the sun, it can cause free radicals to enter the body. These unpaired and unstable electrons can cause long-term damage to cells and DNA, causing premature aging and cancer.

2. It’s Combined with Toxic Ingredients

As you’re now well aware, avobenzone does not offer much sun protection on its own.

This is why sunscreen manufacturers typically mix it with other ingredients, which are less than ideal for your health.

Although avobenzone isn’t on its own, many of the chemicals including the ones listed above have been found to be endocrine disruptors. When you slather on these chemical sunscreens, the ingredients seep into your bloodstream and other tissues.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals can throw off and dysregulate the system that controls your body’s hormones. Over time this can alter fertility, puberty, lead to reproductive health issues, cause certain cancers, damage immune function, and cause respiratory problems.

These ingredients are commonly found in people’s tissue and urine samples.

Avobenzone is often used in spray or aerosol sunscreens, which means all those chemicals go straight into the air you breathe. When inhaled, they can be harmful to your lungs and internal organs.

3. Avobenzone Is a Skin Irritant

On its own, avobenzone is not as toxic as other common sunscreen ingredients. It can, however, cause skin allergies.

People with sensitive skin or conditions like eczema need to carefully watch what products they use. Avobenzone has been found to be an eye irritant and ranks high as an allergen for those with sensitive skin.

4. Avobenzone with Chlorine

You’ll want to think twice before using avobenzone when taking a dip in the pool.

Scientists have found that when avobenzone is mixed with chlorine, it can cause toxic reactions.

When avobenzone, chlorine, and UV rays get together, they break down into a toxic compound. This compound can potentially cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and nervous system.

5. Don’t Forget the Reefs!

Chemical sunscreens don’t just cause damage to the human body. Think of our natural bodies of water and all the organisms that live there.

Swimming with a chemical sunscreen on means those ingredients are working their way into our oceans, rivers, lakes, and more. High levels of these chemicals have been found in coastal waters, which are often hot spots for marine life.

What Is Avobenzone? The Truth About Sunscreen Safety

Even if you’re not swimming in the ocean, these chemicals can still end up there through water run-off.

The UV filter oxybenzone, which you’ll often find with avobenzone, is toxic to coral species.

How to Avoid Avobenzone in Sunscreen

You care about your health and the environment, so now you’re left wondering how to avoid avobenzone.
Ready to make the switch to human and coral reef safe sunscreen?

Look Carefully at Ingredients

Make a habit of carefully scanning ingredients when buying sunscreen, or any cosmetic product for that matter.

Be on the lookout for avobenzone’s other names: Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane and Parsol 1789.

This chemical can also sometimes be hidden in “natural” or “organic” products, which are largely unregulated. Look carefully at the list of inactive ingredients, which make up large amounts of any given product.

One helpful thing to keep in mind is that usually the fewer ingredients a product has, the healthier it is.

Luckily there are organizations like Made Safe, a non-profit dedicated to comprehensive certification with human-health and the Earth’s ecosystems in mind. They help guide companies in creating safe products, while also making it easier for retailers and consumers to find products made without known toxic chemicals.

Choose a Mineral Based Sunscreen

One of the safest routes for sun protection is mineral sunscreens.

These are made with the best sunscreen ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Zinc and titanium particles tend to be larger than those of other standard sunscreen ingredients, so they don’t typically penetrate the skin. This means there’s a low chance of them absorbing into your bloodstream

These skin-friendly sunscreens are often mixed with other beneficial plant-based ingredients like aloe vera and coconut oil.

Mineral ingredients don’t break down in the sun or cause allergies and are also reef-friendly.

A word of caution when buying mineral sunscreens is that some zinc-based products do have chemical fillers, so keep an eye out for sneaky ingredients.

Smart Sun Protection Tips

Now that you know what to look for and what to avoid when buying sunscreen, here are some other helpful tips for the ultimate day in the sun.

  • Cover Yourself: Try to cover up with loose layers, in addition to using sunscreen. Wide-brimmed hats are a great option to protect the sensitive skin on your face and neck. If you know you’re going to be swimming, you can wear a rash guard or other protective swimwear.
  • Find Shade: As tempting as it is to lie in the sun for hours, try to limit direct sunlight, and instead find nice shady spots to lounge in. You can always make your own shade by getting a beach umbrella!
  • Watch the Warning Signs: Your skin gives you warning signals when it’s been in the sun for too long. If it’s looking red or feeling extra warm to the touch, it’s time to find shade and rehydrate.
  • Avoid Peak Hours: Try to limit sun exposure when it’s at its hottest during mid-morning to late afternoon. Morning time and late afternoon are the safest times to be out in the sun.

Congratulations, you’re now a sunscreen-savvy sun worshipper! Grab your favorite zinc-based sunscreen and go soak up those rays!

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